In Vitro Fertilization, commonly referred to as IVF, a medical procedure that was introduced in 1978, joins a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm outside the body in a manner where the sperm is able to enter and fertilize the egg. According to Center for Disease Control statistics, approximately 6.7 million women in the United States, aged between 15-44 years old, have an impaired ability to become pregnant or carry a baby to term. (11% of women in that age range.)1 Although accurate data is more difficult to obtain for male infertility, it is no doubt a significant problem as well. These statistics paint a vivid picture of the impact of infertility in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities. The IVF medical procedure is utilized to address a variety of fertility and reproductive health issues, and consists of several steps. First, the production of a female egg, ova, is stimulated and then extracted from the body, then sperm is either mixed with or directly injected into the unfertilized egg. Next, the egg is observed for signs of successful fertilization and the process of embryo development, and finally, the zygote (the early-stage fertilized egg) is transferred back into a woman’s womb.2
With the advent of this technology as a possible solution to infertility, Muslim patients and Islamic scholars have involved themselves in researching whether this procedure is “Islamically-permissible.” In this brief essay, we would like to provide an overview of how Islamic jurists have viewed the acceptability and applicability of IVF, and highlight some of the Islamic ethical and legal (fiqhi) concerns raised by this procedure.
Before we venture into fiqh, let us address a theological question: Does bringing about pregnancy without direct sexual contact somehow interfere with Allah’s will or decree? The Quran clearly mentions that children are a grace (fadl) from Allah (swt) and that some individuals are granted this bounty and others not. The Qur’an states “Or He bestows both males and females, and He leaves barren whom He will: for He is full of knowledge and power (42:50).”3 Islamic theologians and jurists have largely answered that IVF technology and knowledge also represents a grace from Allah (swt) and as long as it is used within Islamic legal bounds would not represent a violation of accepting God’s decree. Indeed, even after IVF one might not be able to have a child. Furthermore, seeking progeny has been given a meritorious role in Islamic texts as we witness the examples of Prophet Ibrahim and Zakaria, who were childless and dealt with infertility in their marriage, supplicating to Allah (swt) for children. The Qur’an notes “There did Zakariya pray to his Lord, saying: “O my Lord! Grant me a progeny that is pure: for you are He that hears prayers! (3:38)”4
Let us now consider the next question, what do Islamic jurists say about the Islamic permissibility of IVF? In 1986, at their third conference in Amman, Jordan, the Islamic Fiqh Council of the Muslim World League, composed of “a select group of preeminent Islamic jurists from around the world,” met to discuss this issue.5 Utilizing Sunni fiqh methodologies they determined the following criteria for IVF according to Islamic law:
IVF is permissible for a legally married couple in need so long as the reproductive material for the procedure is taken solely from that couple alone. If, however, in order for the IVF procedure to be done a couple must use the sperm, egg, embryo, or uterus of another individual, this is deemed impermissible. The primary reason stated for the prohibition is because obtaining reproductive material outside of a legal marriage confuses the certainty of parentage and presents difficulties to an aim of Shariah that seeks to preserve lineage (hifdh al-nasl).6
This judgment is echoed by other fiqh academics such as the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences, the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, the International Islamic Centre for Population Studies and Research at al-Azhar University, and the Dar El Iftaa, Cairo.7 Islamic jurists and scholars also supplement this ruling in additional ways. Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Al Balagh Cultural Society state through the website IslamOnline that the addition of material such as sperm, an egg, or an embryo from a third party outside of the marriage constitutes adultery (zina) even though there is no direct sexual contact.8 Dr. Muzzamil Siddiqui of the Fiqh Council of North America notes two additional points. He states that the validity of the procedure is contingent on an intact marriage; material from a couple cannot be used after divorce or death and will be considered haram.6 Specifically, the stored sperm of a man should not be used after his death because legally, the marriage contract terminates at the time of death. When considering the use of an extra-marital surrogate mother to carry a baby to term, Dr. Siddiqui adds that this again disrupts hifdh al-nasl because surrogacy presents a problem of determining motherhood.6 The Qur’anic verse “…None can be their mothers except those who gave them birth… (58:2)” is provided as evidence noting that confusion would abound when the woman birthing the child is different than the woman who provided the egg.9
In summary, IVF appears to be an Islamically sanctioned procedure within the confines of a valid marriage as a general rule. Importantly, the procedures related to procuring the egg and sperm need to be assessed for Islamic validity, such that the regulations of modesty are followed in so far as possible, and that the sperm is procured through licit sexual contact as opposed to other means. While there is general permissibility, individual circumstances and contexts might lead to impermissibility, and thus Islamic scholars should be consulted on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, given the advances in technologies and procedures, revisiting the fiqh of this procedure in light of modern developments might be necessary.
By Nasir Malim MPH and Aasim I. Padela MD MSc, The Initiative on Islam and Medicine, University of Chicago
Note: We thank Drs. Hossam and Skina Fadel for underwriting the medical student internship that facilitated Nasir Malim to conduct this research.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/infertility.htm. Published June 2015. Accessed July 7, 2016.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF): MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. U.S National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007279.htm. Accessed July 7, 2016.
- The Holy Quran. Al- Shura 42:50
- The Holy Quran. Ali Imran 3:38
- Islamic Fiqh Council. Muslim World League. http://en.themwl.org/content/islamic-fiqh-council-0. Accessed July 7, 2016.
- IVF Question 34099. IslamiCity. http://www.islamicity.com/qa/action.lasso.asp?-db=services&-lay=ask&-op=eq&number=34099&-format=detailpop.shtml&-find. Accessed July 7, 2016.
- Al-Bar MA, Chamsi-Pasha H. Assisted Reproductive Technology: Islamic Perspective. In: Contemporary Bioethics Islamic Perspective. Springer; :176.
- What is the Islamic ruling in what is now called IVF? IslamOnline. http://fatwa.islamonline.net/2363. Accessed July 7, 2016.
- The Holy Quran. Al-Mujadilah 58:2